Building Boundaries, Guest Blog by Justin Pollock, OrgForward

May 14, 2014

Guest Blog by Justin Pollock, Principal and Founder, Orgforward
Read the original blog here

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“One reason Tibetans have never been active proponents of nature preserves as we know them is that it is hard for Tibetans to conceive of what would be different on the other side of the boundary”
Galen Rowell, My Tibet – 1995

I first heard this statement while attending a talk given by Galen Rowel, an adventure photographer, who at the time, was working on his book My Tibet. The book is an amazing collection of photographs of Tibet which Rowell asked the Dalai Lama to comment and write on. The concept of the quote struck me then as an ambitious student. However, unlike the hundreds of other thought-provoking ideas that sparked robust dialog with my peers but faded into intellectual obscurity as I entered and acclimated to the “real” world, this one still haunts be. It just won’t go away. In fact, it has started screaming even louder.

Here, we (developed countries) had come up with the fix to losing cherished natural resources by encapsulating them in a “preservation zone” where, once we enter, we are expected to subscribe to a higher order of values – a set of values that ensures we don’t lose something important. But by doing so, we actually gave permission to adhere to lesser values outside of that area because the boundary had to mean something. It had to represent some threshold between opposing behavior or else it is useless.

The Tibetan approach challenges us to think differently. Not to think in terms of mediation strategies that require creating a boundary of some sort to protect something. But rather to think about what way of thinking and what values, if embraced, would make protecting and preserving so overwhelming that the threats become insignificant and the boundaries become anachronistic.

The Tibetans clearly, and deeply, understand the community they want. They have recognized what values are necessary to not only preserve that community, but also make it even more prevalent.  And, they believe there is no other option and organize their life in pursuit of that no matter where they are or whom they are with. If an act is not in alignment with those values and vision of how the world they want should work, they don’t do it. Is it easy? Certainly not. There are hard decisions that have to be made, but when you have the support of others to affirm those values and beliefs and to hold each other accountable – collectively, it gets easier.

There are clear lessons to learn about how we organize and behave when working to create better communities. It is not about the boundaries we establish. It’s about the norms we can reinforce that make those boundaries unnecessary and insignificant.

How do you determine and support those norms:

  • Articulate a clear vision of what you want the community to be

  • Determine the beliefs and values that support that vision (Think “compassion” for the Tibetans)

  • Establish how you actually need to behave in order to manifest the ethereal concepts of beliefs and values into terrestrial actions

  • Collectively commit to hold each other accountable

  • Act without boundaries – hold yourself to the values where-ever you are and whom-ever you are with


The parting thought. Lucretius, a Latin playwright of the first century BC, challenged us to consider what happens when you stand on the edge of the universe (a boundary) and shoot an arrow. If it goes somewhere, your boundary was not actually the boundary. Boundaries are just what we construct in our head as an idea about where something ends and/or changes. It’s either a barrier to us being different or a defense from what threatens us. So change the equation, imagine more of what benefit/achievement is possible, welcome that change for the better, and consider how the expansion of that will make the threats insignificant and the barriers inconceivable.


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